Read the text carefully and answer the questions that follow it. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

Every week for 20 years two or three pop groups have had new sessions broadcast by John Peel. The list of groups who have bashed out their stuff1 in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, a list printed in small type across the Peel Sessions sleeves, reads like a who’s who, who will be, and who never-was and never-will-be of pop2. With the usual engaging Peel inefficiency, the list features several spelling mistakes and apparently at least one band that never existed.

That these cheaply marketed records can succeed is a testament to the allegiance of Peel’s fans and the occasional vulnerability of the pop industry to genuine talent. It is also regrettable that the BBC did not help Peel realise his dream sooner.

Peel and his producer John Walters first approached the BBC with the idea of putting the sessions out on record as long ago as the early Seventies, when the artists being taped included Pink Floyd, the Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention and Family. Nothing happened. In the face of a number of contractual problems, the idea was shelved, until about a year ago.

In the intervening period5, groups often paid the BBC to obtain reproduction rights for their sessions, the tracks appearing on or constituting whole LP’s. But more common were bootleg6 recordings, still to be found in record shops across Northern Europe, last year Peel’s patience ran out: it’s a bit much when an illegal cassette copy of a session appears openly on sale the day after its first broadcast.

Peel felt the bands were due some money for their work. A year’s planning led to the launch of Strange Fruit Records last autumn. The company, run by Clive and Shirley Selwood, exists solely to issue Peel sessions as they were originally recorded and broadcast, with the aim of building up a ‘truly collectable music archive.’ ‘But unfortunately, I’ve just discovered I make no money out of this7 at all,’ Peel told the New Musical Express at ‘Strange Fruit’s’ launch party, held in what appeared to be a Radio 1 corridor.

To describe what Strange Fruit has had to do to get the sessions on to vinyl as ‘complicated’ would be an understatement8. First, Peel chooses his favourite sessions. The Selwoods then find out if the tapes still exist. With horrific short-sightedness9 many sessions from the early days, including what would now be priceless recordings by pop legends, have been wiped by the BBC; and many must simply have been lifted by unscrupulous BBC employees or outsiders. But more and more of the tapes are being found at the back of cupboards all over Broadcasting House.

Next, permission is sought from the artiste’s record company. Finally Peel works out the release dates11, mainting a balance in much the same way as he chooses music for his programmes, mixing favourites with forgotten classics, new bands with the unusual. The master tapes are obtained from the BBC for a fee and a royalty, ‘and then the real work starts,’ says Clive Selwood. The 16 releases to date have been restricted to the last ten years: sessions from the late Seventies and early Eighties are the most in demand. Listening to these records, one realises why a Peel session can be the perfect record12 of a group at its best. The producers and engineers at Maida Vale turn out an honest13 sound, which would not flatter the weak or bland. ‘Speaking as a parent,’ Peel lamented recently, ‘it is distressing to see not a single record in the Top 40 of winch a parent can disapprove.’ There is plenty to disapprove of in these sessions.

(adapted from Ken Garner’s ‘Lost Sessions and Sticky Tapes’)


1 What does the writer mean by ‘bashed out their stuff’?

2 What are the ‘never-was and never-will-be of pop’?

3 Explain why the records have been a success.

4 What happened to Peel’s first attempt to issue the sessions on record, and why?

5 What was ‘the intervening period’ referred to?

6 What word or phrase could be used in place of ‘bootleg’ in this context?

7 What does ‘this’ refer to?

8 What is an ‘understatement’?

9 Explain the meaning of ‘short-sightedness’ in this context.

10 Why do some recordings no longer exist?

11 What are ‘release dates’?

12 How does Peel ensure balance?

13 What does ‘record’ mean in this context?

14 Why is the sound at Maida Vale described as ‘honest’?

15 In a paragraph of 80–100 words, summarise the reasons why Strange Fruit Records was set up, and the steps that need to be taken in order to produce a record from the sessions.

Sample Answers

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